Marks & Spencer posted a worse than expected 5.8% drop in underlying sales of clothing, gifts and homeware in its Christmas quarter, exacerbated by online delivery problems. 

The performance was a fourteenth consecutive quarterly decline in general merchandise sales for the British retailer, far underperforming analyst expectations for a 3% drop. 

"We had a difficult quarter in general merchandise, dominated by unseasonal conditions and an unsatisfactory performance in our e-commerce distribution centre," the company's chief executive Marc Bolland said. 

M&S had said in December its new online distribution centre was struggling to cope with demand in the run-up to Christmas, resulting in no next day deliveries and longer waits for customers.

The retailer has failed to stem declines in general merchandise which started over four years ago, a period during which shoppers have become more cost-conscious and turned away from traditional stores towards the internet and discount chains.

A 0.1% rise in food sales in the period over the 13 weeks to December 27, the company's fiscal third quarter, was also lower than the 0.9% the market had expected.